A number of studies suggest that remote locations mean that sparsely populated and under-populated regions’economies tend to grow much less than the EU average. However, various experiences suggest that cultural and creative industries could provide new opportunities to improve local development in sparsely populated and under populated areas. It’s time to foster creative cultural activities as key actors to regenerate rural communities. Fortunately, an ever-growing number of social economy enterprises are rising to the task of generating sustainable solutions to issues affecting people’s lives. The need to work within limited resources has encouraged social entrepreneurs to be innovative and efficient with affordable and cost-effective solutions.
Arts and cultural activities do improve lives: they provide participatory creative activities that help to restore people’s well-being and increase their self-esteem, confidence and empowerment, as well as aiding social cohesion, education and personal development. Absolute Classic, for example, brings the best in classical music to the people of Dumfries and Galloway. Based in rural Scotland, this social enterprise aims to bring some of the best performers to the region and allow the local communities to hear classical musicians of international acclaim. Absolute Classics is building audiences that otherwise would not exist throughout the region. This Social enterprise is introducing them to exceptionally high-quality performances, aiming to increase demand further and providing this level of educational opportunity in the area involving more and more of youth each year.
There are a lot of social economy initiatives that use creative cultural industries as a tool of integration for creating binary value – for the environment and society. While they are building cultural and creative services, they make the surrounding communities more attractive places to live and helps to diversify local economies, fueling investments in broadband infrastructures and services. Supporting local regeneration in a rural area could be difficult, but the social economy is playing a significant role in this process.
Teatro Povero is a community cooperative which dates from the 1960s. At the beginning of that decade, this Tuscan village was going through a profound upheaval, arising from the sudden collapse of the economic and social system which had characterised its existence for centuries: the system of sharecropping (mezzadria). In a village which had no theatre building, it was decided to focus on the idea of open-air theatre in the public square as a way of resisting the crisis. Today the village has just over 200 inhabitants, after a progressive depopulation that also saw service provision reduced. Currently, the Teatro Povero manages, thanks to its staff and with the collaboration of the members, a tourist office, catering during the period of the shows and in the long spring holiday weekends, a museum, health services and more. Teatro Povero not only produces plays but also manages the Barn with all the services provided there, the Museum and a great deal more: an unceasing activity aimed at growth and development, open to the initiative and participation of the community.
The Italian model of the community cooperative aims to produce advantages for the community to which the promoting members belong. Each cooperative is unique and inimitable, in terms of size, objectives and activities, because of the peculiarities of the community, and the different needs and methods of response that are rooted in the history and ways of being of that specific community.
In very uncertain socioeconomic environments like the rural area, given the fragility of the organisations, their limited financial contributions and weak balance sheets, the development of the members’ activity along with their pooling of economic and financial resources can be a decisive issue for their future. The creative and cultural industries and the social economy enterprises can foster spatial and sectorial clusters, such as taking an ecological approach to cultural cooperation and territorial development. For an ecological system, learning and adaptation are two crucial abilities any species needs to survive and sustain itself. The goal of rural cluster-building strategies is to promote nodes of specialised, highly integrated, multifunctional and complementary smaller-scale economic activity. This approach thus seeks to generate metropolitan-like dynamics by scaling and scoping up economic activities across regions.
The so-called Pôles Territoriaux de Coopération Économique culture in France often appear as groupings of organisations of professional producers and distributors, for the most part very small, which have a co-operative vocation. These organisations first aggregate around a central field of cultural or artistic activity, even if there is often also an additional competence as regards territorial development. They have a variety of legal statuses, commercial and non-commercial, but what dominates is the associative form. A common strategy is shared between different entities in the cluster and resources, experience, opportunities and means are shared, which allows a reduction of the individual costs for each of them. Yet their first concrete objective is the mutualisation of means and skills so as to cope better with the numerous hazards to their survival and development that each of them is confronted with.
Various links appear between rural communities, creative cultural industries and the social economy. Creative activities have a strong territorial dimension, often make positive impacts in the areas where they are located, because their openness and interaction with other activities give rise to agglomeration and cluster effects. They tend to generate a high proportion of total value added locally. The same is true for the social economy and social enterprises. Due to their very nature, social economy organisations can adapt flexibly to local development needs. Not committed to maximising financial profit, social economy organisations can take into consideration the values and expectations of actors in the field of local development, and the long-term effects of decisions, as well as define actual development strategies.
The importance of creative and cultural activities in synergy with social economy enterprises in addressing multiple and complex issues should not be underestimated.